Late for work as a maternity nurse, dedicated single mom Celie (Judy Reyes, "Smile") has little time to deal with a sick child.  Thinking it nothing serious, Celie drops Lila (A.J. Lister) off with her neighbor Pauline (Rina Mejia), reassuring her over the course of frequently mounting phone calls, then guiltily enjoying the peace after dropping her phone in the toilet.  Celie never anticipated bacterial meningitis though, and when the devastated mother learns New York City has lost her daughter’s body, her fury leads her to the apartment of suspicious acting morgue doctor Rose Casper (Marin Ireland, "The Boogeyman") who she will form an unholy alliance with in “Birth/Rebirth.”

Laura's Review: B

Cowriter (with her 'Fry Day' collaborator Brendan J. O'Brien)/director Laura Moss makes their feature directorial debut with the latest take on the Frankenstein tale, one which ingeniously pairs a nurse and mother with a deeply strange doctor, both brought to vivid life by Reyes and Ireland. 

What makes Moss’s creeping horror so effective is how these actresses gradually acquire traits of each others’ characters, the deeply maternal, sympathetic Reyes becoming coldly focused while Ireland’s possibly autistic, single-minded mad scientist begins to show signs of empathy.   After an unsettling prologue depicting a labor gone wrong in barely coherent flashes, Moss establishes Celie’s bond with her daughter, the two joking around on the bus ride home from the hospital.   Their evening is crosscut with the odd, imperious behavior of Rose, who refuses to let her subordinate Scott (Grant Harrison) leave early to deal with a family emergency.

Rose, whose wide eyes, high forehead and severe hairline give her an alien appearance, leaves work too, surprising us by showing up at a bar, then telling the unkempt man who makes a pass that she’d like to ‘masturbate him in the bathroom.’  What he doesn’t see is that she’s come prepared with equipment to collect his semen, which she immediately implants upon her arrival at home.  This is one seriously extreme contrast in end of day routines.                   

What Celie will find in Rose’s apartment is her daughter, hooked up to an IV bag and monitor.  She’s alive, if non-responsive.  There is also Muriel, a full grown pig Rose informs her ‘died two months ago,’ now wandering about like a pet (and, disturbingly, we will learn, named after her late mother).  Like Vicaria in this year’s earlier “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster,” Rose is working on a cure for death itself and what it entails and what Rose has been going through to get it is mind boggling.  Things will take an even more macabre turn when Rose identifies a pregnant woman, Emily (Breeda Wool), whose amniotic fluid is just what they need.

Moss teases their audience with tantalizing suggestions throughout their film, an early third act confidence by Rose leading Celie to make a shocking discovery.  But it is how they direct these two’s dance around each other as they aim for the same goal with differing motivations that is the beating heart of their film.  With “Birth/Rebirth” Moss illustrates how the maternal become cutthroat while the cold-blooded find humanity as both fight for life.

Robin's Review: B

Rose (Marin Ireland) is a clinical pathologist obsessed with bringing the dead back to life. Celie (Judy Reyes) is a maternity nurse and the mom of an energetic and gabby 6-year old, Lila (A.J. Lister). When tragedy strikes, the two women, strangers, must join forces to bring back the child in “Birth/Rebirth.”

There seems to be a minor resurgence in movies that borrow from Mary Shelly’s classic novel, Frankenstein, like this year’s “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster,” an okay telling of the story. Now, “Birth / Rebirth” engages the “make a monster” story and turns it around into a tale of motherly love and obsession.

Rose is more comfortable with her deceased clients than she is with her living colleagues. Her dedication to her work and its isolating nature is the perfect environment for her to do…what? That part of the story unfolds and it is a strange one as we find out what she is up to.

Celie and Lila are very happy with mom working hard at her nursing job, raising her 6-year old by herself. One day, as usual, she drops of her Lila at the sitter’s and heads off to work. But, this normal routine is thrown out of whack when she goes to pick up Lila and finds out she has been rushed to the hospital.

Celie learns that her precious daughter has died but, when she asks to see the body, it is not there. This begins the collision of two women – two life forces that have a common cause – and their story is a clever, modern edition of the tried and true “let’s make a monster” fable.

Writer-director Laura Moss (with co-scribe Brendan O’Brien) pays proper homage to Mary Shelley and her creation. Here, though, it is a feminist story, one about women, a mother and her child and, oh yeah, one about conquering death. Moss’s story does not use cheap clichés – like electric sparks and bubbling beakers and test tubes – to tell the monster tale.  They make it two personal stories of two women thrown together by circumstance and joining in a common cause – Lila.

Of course, if you mess with the gods’ work, you could be asking for trouble – big trouble.

IFC Films releases "Birth/Rebirth" in theaters on 8/18/23.